Over the last few weeks I’ve really enjoyed introducing you to some of the writer friends I’ve made through Book Connectors. Today, I’m delighted to welcome Marilyn Messik, author of the quite wonderful sounding Strange Series. Let’s have a look at her books first, and then I’ll introduce you…
Relatively Strange (published by Matador in November 2013)
“I was five when I discovered I could fly, sixteen when I killed a man. Both events were unsettling in their own way.”
Growing up has its difficulties for everyone, and it’s tricky to know what’s normal if you’re not. Stella certainly has no hesitation filing herself in the unusual drawer. But it’s only when she discovers she’s not unique that, what up until now has merely caused some extraordinary blips in an ordinary life, acquires a whole new dimension.
Forced to haul in resources she didn’t know she possessed, she’s thrust into the violence of a situation for which nothing could have prepared her, face to face with the stark reality of medical experimentation and its horrifying consequences.
In a world of uncertainties though, one thing’s beyond doubt – this hero stuff just isn’t her. Normal, or as near as damn it is what she’s after and if that means smothering her instincts, building her shielding and adjusting her expectations well, so be it. At least she’ll know, should she slip off the wagon occasionally, it’ll be through choice, not chance and to suit herself. However, isn’t it a fact, just when you think you’ve got yourself sorted, life turns round and bites you?
Even Stranger (published by Matador on 25th April 2016)
“I thought I’d knocked him out, but in a flash he’d turned over on to all fours and was crawling swiftly, spider-like, back towards us. He still held the knife and I knew what he wanted to do with it. I set fire to the handle. The wood flamed and he hissed in pain, but didn’t let go. It was all turning rather awkward.”
With the swinging sixties staggering, somewhat shamefaced and flustered, into the slightly staider seventies, life for Stella, isn’t always as smooth as she’d like. But she’s clear how things are going to be from now on. It’s not she can’t handle sticky situations, she can, she just doesn’t want to – violence really isn’t her thing. Of course, she’d be better off if she could just ditch the conviction she always knows best. This shortcoming, combined with a chronic inability to keep her mouth shut and her nose out of other people’s business, has led her off the straight and narrow, more than once.
Forward planning includes setting herself up in a successful business, sticking like glue to normal, squashing an over-active conscience and steering clear of anything remotely risky or unpleasant. Unfortunately, the best laid plans often lead to the darkest places.
A bit different, eh? Relatively Strange has gathered so many five star reviews and wonderful comments that Stephen King himself would be glowing with pride – and Even Stranger is very rapidly catching up. Let’s meet the author…
Hello Marilyn, and welcome to Being Anne – a little introduction to start with?
Hi Anne, I have to say I love this sort of interview. I’ve done a few on the radio but somehow, having those headphones on makes me want to mutter ‘Over and Out!’ a lot.
I’m not sure how Relatively Strange passed me by – I’ve just spent a lovely half hour reading all the five star reviews. Tell me more about Stella…
Haven’t people been nice in their comments? Have to confess to wanting to go round and hug everyone and anyone who’s said kind things, however, think that might come under the stalking heading, so have held back – to date!
More about Stella? Well, I suppose the first thing that comes to mind is that ever since the first book came out, people who know me and have read it, have been giving me rather old-fashioned looks, as if I might have some of Stella’s attributes – only wish I did!
I am delighted though that people seem to have taken to her, I think we all have in us, the desire to right a wrong and thump a bully and it’s highly satisfying to read about someone who’s able to do just that.
And now we have Even Stranger – I’ve shared the description, but I’d love to know a little more about it…
Well, when I called the first book Relatively Strange, the next two titles in the series – Even Stranger and Stranger Still seemed inevitable, so I sort of set myself up for a trilogy straight away. I earn my living as a copy writer and as such, you get a good, gut feeling when you’re lucky enough to hit on the right name or phrase – and you have to use them, no two ways about it, just can’t let them go to waste.
Even Stranger takes Stella on a continuing learning curve – or maybe curve isn’t the right way to describe it – it’s more of a slalom run. She still hasn’t cottoned on to the fact that if she could just keep her nose out of other people’s business, things really would be a lot less troublesome.
I’m not a fan of pigeon-holing, but how would you describe your writing? I’m seeing comparisons with Alan Bennett, Stephen King, Maureen Lipman…!
It has been pointed out that my books are a bit of a cross between Stephen King and Maureen Lipman. There are plenty of dark elements with which Stella keeps getting hit in the face, but there’s no doubt she has a mouth-and-a-half on her, an inability to keep it shut and an incorrigible, often totally inappropriate, sense of humour.
I’m not sure quite how I’d describe my writing – other than I love doing it. I’m a seat of the pants author and don’t do much plotting or planning. I just tend to sit back and wonder what happened next? And that seems to work OK.
When you were writing, did you have a reader in mind? A certain background, or age group maybe? Someone who likes a certain kind of book? Male or female?
I think the only specific reader I ever have in mind is one with a sense of humour – if there’s a humour by-pass, then my writing’s going to drive them nuts isn’t it? So, any age group or gender, as long as they’re happy to tune in; chill out and accept Stella’s just an ordinary person who happens to be able to do some rather odd things. I’ve been tickled pink that readers of all ages and both sexes have taken to her.
I know you also write the Little Black Business Book series – which really couldn’t be further removed from your fiction! Which do you enjoy writing the most?
The LBBB’s – were in response to the plethora of business books out there that promise the earth. I’m a firm believer that often, what’s at the end of the rainbow, isn’t always a crock of gold, but something else altogether – there’s no simple, primrose path to success.
After many years in business, (scars and t-shirts) I know you need to have your feet firmly fixed to the floor, your head screwed on and most importantly, you have to learn to trust your own common sense and instinct, as to what’s right for you. The LBBBs are all about the most important business ingredient – the development and growth of your own confidence.
Did you always want to write fiction? And when you decided to do so, did you simply sit at your keyboard and write?
I taught myself to type on my father’s old portable typewriter when I was about eight, with a teach-yourself book I got from Hendon library. I started off, bashing out lengthy and convoluted science fiction stories, which may not have thrilled anyone else, but kept me fully occupied and amused for ages. So yes, I suppose I was always leaning towards fiction.
I wrote short stories for magazines for years as well as doing factual stuff, and what nowadays would be called a blog – although then it was a Diary Series for Mother and Baby magazine.
I wouldn’t say Relatively Strange flowed out of me, because there were the usual writerly periods of staring blankly at an empty screen or banging my head against the nearest wall. But then there were good days when it took off and grew any which way it wanted to, with me following breathlessly behind.
How do you manage to fit your fiction writing around your busy life? What does a typical writing day look like?
As a copywriter – creating website texts, brochures, business names etc, I’m lucky to be busy (because that’s what pays the bills) so I have a fairly hectic schedule and some tight deadlines.
I need to fit in my own stuff, early in the morning, because late at night I’m invariably tired and incoherent. It’s kind of like running (not that running is something I’d ever dream of doing – even for a bus!) but you need to get into so much of a routine that if you don’t do it one morning, you feel incredibly guilty.
Planning, writing, editing, the launch, getting word out there – what’s your favourite part of the process? And the most difficult?
Love the writing, love the editing, but oh my word, fall flat on my face when it comes to the launch and getting the word out there. Hate looking pushy, although a fair old bit of push is what’s needed to get people’s attention. Unfortunately, I’m more of the murmuring school of publicity!
And what writers do you particularly admire? People love making those comparisons, but when they say “your writing reminds me of…”, who would you really like them to mention?
So many I admire – John Connolly, Stephen King, Justin Cronin, Anne Rivers Siddons – The House Next Door is up there with my favourite books. Nora Ephron is another favourite.
And what’s next for you? More Stella?
There is definitely going to be a third Stella book although there’s another book in the pipeline, Witch Dust, which isn’t a Stella one, but will probably be next to be published. And then we’ll see what Stella gets up to next in Stranger Still. I definitely need to get my finger out don’t !?
Marilyn, thank you – I’m rather looking forward to discovering Stella, and wish you every success with the series and everything else you do.
(The buying links I’ve used are to Amazon UK – for more options, do have a look at Marilyn’s website.)
Marilyn was a regular feature and fiction writer for national magazines when her children were small. She set up her first business selling toys, books and party goods from home, before opening first one shop then another.
When she sold the shops, she moved into the world of travel, focusing on accommodation in New England, USA. Her advisory, planning and booking service flourished and she concurrently launched a publishing company, producing an annual, full-colour accommodation guide. In 2007 she set up a copywriting consultancy, Create Communication to help businesses shape their messages to optimum effect. She’s the author of the Little Black Business Book series.
She’s been married to her very patient husband for more years than he deserves and they have two children, five grandchildren and, somewhat to their surprise, several grand-dogs. She likes nothing more than hearing from her readers: follow her on Twitter, and she has a really excellent website through which she welcomes contact.